Mayor's statement about COVID-19 responses

March 23, 2020

A lot has happened in ways that many of us couldn’t have even imagined just one week ago.  We are living in uncertain and unprecedented times. With the news reports every day about the escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic in B.C., it’s natural to feel concerned… for our health, for our economy and for our society. 

I want to thank all healthcare providers, senior home care staff, first responders and everyone else on the frontlines of this battle who are providing essential services. These include everything from the truck drivers and grocery store employees who keep our food supply chain functioning, to the childcare and elder care workers who allow health care professionals and other essential service workers to do their job.

I know there are many people in our community that have to go to their places work right now. People who work in the hospitals, medical centres, grocery stores, first responders, child care workers, janitorial staff and many of our City employees. I want every one of them to know that they have our sincere gratitude and appreciation.

We will be placing hearts on the front of the City Hall as symbols of our thanks to all of those front line workers who have to continue to leave their homes to go to work and do not have the ability to work from home or take time off. I would encourage anyone to do the same on the front windows and doors so that our neighbours driving past our homes know they have our support.

Your vigilance, compassion, service and courage are inspiring and appreciated by City Council, City staff and the citizens of Kelowna.

First and foremost, I want to urge everyone to listen to the regular updates from B.C.’s Medical Health Officer and follow her advice – social distancing, hand washing, stay home if you’re sick and avoiding unnecessary travel around our community. 

These measure are being taken to save lives – particularly the lives of the most vulnerable citizens… our parents and grandparents, people with compromised immune systems and respiratory ailments. However, as we’ve seen from examples around the world, no one is immune.

Of course, there are serious consequences of these unprecedented, necessary measures… And more measures might be coming… But these measures give us our best chance to avoid the long-term repercussions of not doing everything we can now to minimize the spread of the virus.

We have been asked why we haven’t issued a local state of emergency. The answer is that the broad powers granted under the provincial state of emergency are addressing the immediate needs in our community for safety and compliance with the Medical Health Officer’s orders.

I fully endorse the advice on public health matters announced by Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C’s Medical Health Officer.

I am also happy to keep you up-to-date about information on how the City of Kelowna is following those medical health orders and recommendations to safeguard our employees and our citizens’ health.

Numerous city-owned facilities and buildings are closed to the public and on Friday we started to offer City services remotely and by appointment only in the best interests of the public and staff.

Kelowna International Airport, Glenmore Landfill and RCMP Police Services front counter remain open to the public, with precautionary measures in place to protect staff, and the City Yards Warehouse remains open for deliveries only. Those City staff who can work from home are now doing so to maximize social distancing.

Measures have also been taken to ensure social distancing at Council meetings and to encourage people to use online services.

The April 7 public hearing is cancelled.

Effective immediately, all 81 City playground and all outside exercise facilities are closed – that includes tennis courts, Pickleball courts, basketball courts and other places where groups gather.

For now, open spaces and walkways will remain open, but should users of these space not practice safe distancing, we will be forced to take further action.

This also applies to businesses that have been ordered closed. Further action will be taken for those that are not compliant with the provincial Medical Health Officer’s order. 

Given the serious economic consequences of this pandemic, the City is looking into what we can do to ease the financial strain on businesses and residents.

We will report out on any assistance we can provide when that’s in place.

For now, transit fares will be waived for the next 30 days as passengers use rear-door boarding, and senior staff have been asked to look at ways to reduce the City’s 2020 budget … and this afternoon Council will be reviewing proposed parking fee reductions.

The province has jurisdiction over property tax deferrals and the City of Kelowna expressed our support to the Province last week for the expansion of deferrals. 

The federal and provincial governments have devoted billions of dollars to help employers and employees to weather this storm. The best provincial source for information about business support is gov.bc.ca.

The federal Parliament is reconvening tomorrow to discuss getting its economic stimulus package into place. 

Last week, the federal government announced $27 million in emergency aid for workers and $55 billion in tax deferrals. They are also working to retool industry to ensure hospitals have what they need.

Among the proposals is a Business Credit Availability Program to support financing in the private sector through the Business Development Bank of Canada and Export Development Canada. Visit bdc.ca to get the details on these programs and others to help businesses.

For people whose employment is interrupted, visit Canada.ca to learn more about the no-wait period to receive Employment Insurance benefits if you’re laid off due to this pandemic.

Late last week the federal government clarified temporary foreign workers will be allowed to enter Canada and isolate themselves for 14 days, which is vital to our agricultural community.

And this morning the government announced another $5 billion in lending capacity through Farm Credit Canada.

The province announced this weekend it is preparing to enact rent and eviction protection measures, making sure those dovetail with how the federal government is responding on this issue.

We are told that these extraordinary measures are just the beginning and there will be more announcements by senior levels of government in the coming days to protect Canadians. In the meantime, we encourage you to continue to support local businesses – many of which now have on-line options.

The City’s critical response team has been working for several weeks and continues to put numerous changes into action every day. Contingency planning is in place to ensure essential services can be maintained.

And we are working collaboratively with our regional partners to ensure we are ready to support needs that arise as this situation evolves.

Given the fluidity of this situation I encourage you to follow federal and provincial communications channels that have the most up-to-date information. The City of Kelowna will continue to partner with our local media and use our online and social media channels to keep you up to date on City business as related to this fast-moving pandemic.

In closing, I repeat… we need everyone to follow the rules the B.C. Medical Health Officer has in place to keep everyone safe.

If we follow those directions, we have a great chance to save lives in our community… and along the way, we can reconnect with what it means to be a good neighbour and a good citizen. Help those who need it… be considerate to others around us… express gratitude to others who are serving our community. Together we will get through this.